Crisis? Quelle crise?

The French housing market is ‘in meltdown’ after housing starts plunged to the crisis level of double what we are managing on this side of the Channel.

President Francois Hollande reconvenes his Cabinet today after returning from holiday with ministers working on a recovery package topped by measures to stimulate the construction industry.

Syria rather than housebuilding may be the reason why David Cameron cut short his holiday in Cornwall but the economic mood here could hardly be more different. House prices are up 10.2 per cent in the last year and ministers claim that their ‘long-term economic plan is getting Britain building again’.

There are no prizes for guessing which of the two countries saw 306,654 housing starts in the year to June and which will be lucky to manage 160,000 over the same period.

-> Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


Survey story – part two

Here’s the second part of my blog on some key themes emerging from the latest English Housing Survey.

Part one looked at changing trends in tenure, the impact of the financial crisis and the true nature of under-occupation. This final part looks at three more trends that caught my eye: private renters are not as satisfied as they seem; affordability may not be what you think; and social renters do not conform to TV stereotypes.

-> Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


Survey story – part one

It’s time again for a welter of new information about housing in England. Here’s the first of a two-part blog on what caught my eye.

The English Housing Survey also covers stock conditions, energy efficiency and fire safety but this blog concentrates on the story on households. Information from it was first released in February but more followed today. Here are the first three of six themes that seemed significant to me.

The slow death of the property-owning democracy continues: I blogged about the key trends in tenure in February. It wasn’t just about the rise and rise of private renting (it had been clear that it would overtake social renting for some time) but a huge shift within owner-occupation.

-> Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


Paying the bill

Blink and you may have missed it but significant housing legislation you may never have heard of passed its final stages in the Commons on Monday night.

Scant discussion in the housing press (including by me) of the Deregulation Bill is perhaps understandable when you consider that it is huge and it covers everything from the right to buy to outer space*. Several of the clauses involving housing were also not in the original Bill and have been added later.

However, here’s what will become law in England this summer as a result of Monday’s votes (there are other minor changes I don’t have room for):

  • The qualifying period for the right to buy will be reduced from five years to three
  • Local authorities will no longer be able to impose standards for new homes that go beyond the building regulations (mainly on energy efficiency)
  • Legislation banning short-term lets of homes in London will be repealed
  • The secretary of state will no longer have the power to require local authorities to produce housing strategies.

-> Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


‘We are not a charity’

An eloquent argument for social housing came from an unexpected source on Panorama last night.

The programme covered what it called a new housing crisis: homelessness and the private rented sector. The hook for Britain’s Homeless Families was the fact that the number of people being made homeless by private landlords has trebled in the last five years but it also looked at families stuck in temporary accommodation and facing eviction because of the benefit cap.

It began with the case of Vicky, who was forced to leave her home in Kent because she was on housing benefit despite the fact that she had never been in rent arrears and never had a complaint about her. ‘I’m a bit shocked actually,’ she said. ‘If you treated the property well and you paid your rent I couldn’t see what the problem would be.’

Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


Fresh ideas

A new manifesto for private renters published today highlights the new thinking on housing emerging ahead of the general election.

This is the first of two manifestos being launched this week by new organisations with different priorities and constituencies to the existing ones. We’ll hear from SHOUT, the campaign for social housing, tomorrow but today it’s the turn of Generation Rent.

And it’s about time. Since the creation of the assured shorthold tenancy and the invention of buy to let, the private rented sector has more than doubled in size. That’s great news for landlords and letting agents but not so great for tenants with minimal security of tenure and consumer rights.

To illustrate my point, here are three recent bits of news.

-> Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


Dead air

There was a telling moment at the end of last night’s Radio 4 debate on housing: the sound of complete silence from the audience.

The dead air came in response to a question from presenter Mark Easton asking people at the debate at the London School of Economics (LSE) how many of them think our political leaders are doing their best to solve the housing crisis.

But I am not sure if what sounded like mostly a young audience was tremendously impressed by the answers from the panel either and that may have been down to the way the question was framed in Housing: Where Will We All Live?

-> Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


Rachman, rogues and renting

Scandals hit private renting. With an election in the offing, the Labour opposition pledges help for tenants. There are definite parallels between now and the 1960s.

Everyone (especially those who oppose the party’s current modest reform plans) thinks they knows what happened in the wake of Rachmanism but the truth is far more complicated and so are the lessons for the future.

My interest in the period was first caught by a 2012 Radio 4 documentary called The Real Rachman – the Lord of the Slums. I thought I knew about Rachmanism but the programme told a much more nuanced and mysterious story that I blogged about shortly afterwards.

That blog prompted an email from Professor David Nelken, whose 1983 book on the aftermath of Rachmanism has just been reissued. The Limits of the Legal Process is a classic study of the sociology of the law that should be required reading for anyone involved in the current debates about regulating renting (or indeed regulating anything). The book is subtitled ‘a study of landlords, law and crime’ and it tells the story of the response to Rachmanism, first by the politicians with legislation, then by landlords with evasion and then by local authorities and the courts with implementation and enforcement.

Read the rest of this entry »


Control speak

Labour’s bold move on private renting seems to be working as politics. Will it work as policy?

I’ve never been to Venezuela or Vietnam but, with due deference to Grant Shapps’s expertise on their housing systems, I do have a few observations to offer.

The Conservative chairman compared Ed Miliband to Hugo Chavez in a ludicrously overblown reaction to the Labour leader’s speech yesterday. Free market think tanks like the Institute of Economic Affairs and right-wing commentators like Fraser Nelson and Harry Phibbs joined him in condemning Labour’s supposed plans to introduce rent controls.

A quick glance at what Labour is actually proposing reveals that it owes far more to Ireland and Germany than Venezuela and Vietnam:

  • A ban on the outrageous fees letting agents charge to tenants, which Labour says will save them an average of £350.
  • A default three-year tenancy, from which tenants can give one month’s notice after the first six months
  • The rent to be freely negotiated at the start of the tenancy with annual increases after that based on a benchmark such as average market rents.

Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


Why registration is the key for private renters

Can the votes of private renters swing the next election and move their concerns up the political agenda in the process?

The huge shift in housing tenure seen this century suggests they can. In 2000 just two million households in England were private tenants. According to the English Housing Survey, that had doubled to almost four million by 2012/13. Add another 500,000 in Wales and Scotland, allow for another two years of growth and, with 1.8 people of voting age per household, you have nine million potential private rented votes at the next election.

Polling by Generation Rent, the recently relaunched National Private Tenants Organisation, suggests that the votes of private renters could be decisive in 86 seats in England. Of these, 38 are currently held by the Conservatives, 32 by Labour, 15 by the Lib Dems and one by the Greens. The results here could be enough to deliver an overall majority for David Cameron, make Ed Miliband the leader of the largest party or give Nick Clegg a major say in a new coalition.

Read the rest of this entry »


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